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Human Tails: Another Evolutionary Icon that Coyne, Giberson and Other Darwin Defenders Would Be Wise to Abandon

Casey Luskin
A group of resting lemurs katta

In previous posts, I have taken a close look at an often-repeated claim that humans born with a “vestigial” tail, a rare medical condition, represent a relic of evolution, pointing to our descent from a tailed ancestor. Charles Darwin was the first to articulate this notion, but it survives, a true vestige, among his modern advocates.

I used Karl Giberson’s statements in a recent debate with Stephen Meyer as my occasion for taking up the subject, but other Darwinian spokesman have said just the same. Jerry Coyne, for example, repeats the myth of the human tail on pages 65-66 of his book Why Evolution Is True where he writes “tails appear to be true atavisms” and wrongly states that these tails can appear like a normal “tail” with vertebrae.

For easy reference, please find here a list of my articles in this series:

To sum up: Dr. Giberson expressed the typical view, claiming:

  • Sometimes “babies are born with perfectly formed, even functional tails.”
  • Babies with tails tend to be “otherwise healthy.”
  • “The scientific explanation is that we inherited these instructions from our tailed ancestors but the instructions for producing them have been shut off in our genomes.”

As we have seen, each of these claims is false:

  • No babies are born with perfectly formed, fully functional tails.
  • Babies that do have tails typically have serious associated neurological defects.
  • The exact causes of tails are debated, but because of their persistent association with neurological defects, the most plausible view is that they result from abnormalities and deviations in development.

Thankfully, most doctors today take their view on this not from Darwinian evolution, but from the evidence, the accumulated experience of clinical researchers as represented in the medical literature. Researchers warn that seeing tails as benign structures can lead doctors to miss serious developmental problems.

It’s a good thing, not least for patients, that the Darwinian doctrine, little more than an urban legend, is fast on its way to being abandoned.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



Continuing SeriesKarl GibersonThe Myth of Human Tails